Cop26: Politicians’ pledges pave way forward but details to be determined

Big promises bode well as India and China enter into spirit of saving the planet

As he prepared to leave Glasgow on Tuesday night after two apparently successful days at the Cop26 climate summit, Boris Johnson warned against succumbing to false hope. But the meeting had a better start than many predicted, bringing more than 100 countries together behind two important pledges on methane emissions and deforestation.

Activists and experts were quick to note correctly that neither of the pledges – to cut global methane emissions by 30 per cent, and to end and reverse deforestation – are binding and the pledge to reverse deforestation is not unlike a promise made in 2014. The difference is that while 40 countries signed the 2014 pledge, more than twice as many have made the commitment this week.

Clearing forests

The signatories, which include countries like Canada, China, Indonesia and Brazil, account for more than 85 per cent of the world’s forests. There will be significant financial incentives to avoid clearing forests and pressure on investors to avoid companies that profit from deforestation.

The third big event during the leaders’ summit was Narendra Modi’s announcement that India would cut its emissions to net zero by 2070, two decades later than the goal set by Cop26. The date may be less important, however, than the fact it is the first time that India has set a target for net zero.


India is the fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, although its huge population means its per capita emissions are lower than in other big countries. Modi promises to get half of India’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 and to cut carbon emissions by a billion tonnes by the same date.

Economic power

Modi’s visibility in Glasgow was more noticeable for the absence of China’s President Xi Jinping, who has not left his country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. China has promised to bring its emissions to a peak by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2060, 10 years later than the Cop26 goal.

As Johnson pointed out in his press conference on Tuesday evening, China’s size and economic power mean that it will make a huge difference if its emissions peak as early as 2025. And its commitment to stop financing coal-fired power projects overseas will impact on the use of coal in parts of Europe as well as Asia.

With the leaders gone, negotiators will spend the next two weeks working on the details that will determine the success of Cop26 and the real value of the politicians’ pledges.